by James Leonard
How much brass quintet music can anybody stand? After all, a couple of trumpets, a horn, a trombone, and a tuba don't have the widest tonal range, the subtlest instrumental colors, or the most interesting repertoire. Of course, the answer is that while nobody can stand bad music poorly played for more than a couple of minutes, anybody can stand good music well played for at least a couple of hours. Even brass quintet music, the bastard child of military music and concert music, has its range, subtleties, and repertoire.
As with every other kind of music, there is good and bad brass band music. And as with every other kind of music, there are good and bad brass quintets. Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Climb Every Mountain" played by the Moosomin Volunteer Fire Department Brass Quintet would no doubt be an abomination, but Victor Ewald's Brass Quintet no. 3 played by the Michigan Chamber Brass is simply good music well played.
It just so happens that the Michigan Chamber Brass, the best brass quintet in southeast Michigan, has included Ewald's Brass Quintet no. 3 in its program for Chelsea Musical Celebrations held on Sunday, March 28. For those not familiar with Chelsea Musical Celebrations, it is a splendid concert series presenting internationally recognized musicians who live in southeast Michigan; they perform in the very warm and reverberant acoustics of the First Congregational Church of Chelsea. The series has already presented, among others, the brilliant piano and violin duo of Arthur Greene and Solomia Soroka, and later this season it will host the swinging sounds of James Dapogny's Chicagoans. And right in the middle of the season, Chelsea Musical Celebrations will present Ann Arbor's own Michigan Chamber Brass.
The Ewald is the central work on the program. A Russian contemporary of Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky, Ewald was far and away the best composer of brass music in the nineteenth century, and his Quintet no. 3 is arguably the height of his achievement. With its dashing opening Allegro moderato and its vivacious closing Vivo surrounding a beguiling Intermezzo and a soulful Andante with an unforgettable trumpet melody, Ewald's Third Quintet is one of the greatest brass works ever. Also on the program are Canadian composer Morley Calvert's heart-warming, pulse-pounding Suite from the Monteregian Hills, and brass transcriptions of Fats Waller's always infectious "Ain't Misbehavin'" and of works by Dukas and Debussy.
[Originally published in March, 2004.]
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